What Causes Stroke in Young Adults?
Annually, over 795,000 people in the U.S. experience a stroke, which is their first one for most. To put it differently, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds, and someone passes away due to a stroke every 4 minutes across the country. While the vast majority of strokes occur in people who are 65 or older, 10% to 15% of people who have a stroke are younger than 45.
There are two types of stroke – hemorrhagic and ischemic. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel leaks or bursts, whereas ischemic strokes occur when there is a blocked artery in the body. Some individuals have only a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain, which is known as a transient ischemic attack and which does not cause lasting symptoms. Accounting for approximately 85% of strokes, ischemic strokes are the most prevalent.
Some of the most typical causes of stroke in the elderly are past or current tobacco smoking, diabetes, heart disease, being overweight or obese, high blood pressure, taking certain medications, such as blood thinners, hormone therapy taken to manage the symptoms of menopause, a family history of stroke, and gender, as men are slightly more likely to experience a stroke.
However, these diseases and risk factors are mostly present in adults and the elderly, which raises the question – what causes stroke in young adults? Every year, 70,000 people under the age of 45 have a stroke in America, and the number is rising alarmingly. This article will delve into the most common causes of stroke in young adults and how they can avoid experiencing this life-threatening condition.
Lifestyle Risk Factors and Acquired Risk Factors
Some risk factors for stroke in young people are the same as those for the elderly, which concern lifestyle, namely heavy drinking, high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Nevertheless, in addition to these risk factors, which a person can control by giving up their unhealthy habits and by getting proper treatment for their health conditions, there are some risk factors that are inherited or acquired. Fortunately, even when you have inherited or acquired risk factors in your life, there are measures you can take to prevent a stroke. The following are the risk factors that place young adults at high risk for stroke:
- Blood disorders: Some individuals develop or inherit conditions that cause blood to clot more easily, which increases their risk of ischemic stroke. Coagulation issues can be inherited, and some are detectable with a blood test. Therefore, if you or a relative has developed blood clots, talk to your doctor about possible treatments as soon as possible.
- Heart conditions: People who are born with or develop heart conditions that cause or allow blood clots to travel to the brain might have a high risk of stroke as well. A small number of strokes in young adults are the consequence of patent foramen ovale, a condition that develops when a hole between the chambers of the heart fails to close during the first several months after birth. Roughly 25% of people have patent foramen ovale. It can be found by undergoing a simple echocardiogram. Nevertheless, because the vast majority of people with this heart condition never develop complications, doctors rarely treat it unless the patient has symptoms.
- Aneurysms: When blood vessel walls weaken and create bubbles that can rupture, aneurysms develop, and they can lead to hemorrhagic strokes. It is worthy of note that some people are born with blood vessel malformations such as aneurysms. Medical studies found that there are also genes and inherited conditions that increase the risk. While aneurysms can occur at any age, ruptured aneurysms most often affect people between the ages of 30 and 60.
- Polycystic kidney disease: This is a kidney disorder that runs in families. It leads to cysts forming on the kidneys, and since the kidneys filter blood, these cysts might cause blood vessel disorders, including high blood pressure and aneurysms. People who struggle with polycystic kidney disease have a 50% higher risk of aneurysms, so it is crucial to receive regular medical care that includes treatment for high blood pressure.
- Migraines: As a neurological disorder most known for the terrible headaches it causes, migraine is believed to be inherited. It increases the risk of stroke in young adults and can sometimes cause ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. The risk of stroke increases as the person ages, as the more migraine attacks they have, the higher their risk of stroke will be. Smoking increases stroke risk in people with migraine to a great extent, and women who have migraine and who take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy also have a high risk of stroke.
- Artery tears: This health condition refers to the dissection of neck blood vessels. It can occur spontaneously or due to trauma, even minor trauma. Even the slight tears can result in blood clots, which will either block the artery or break off and travel to the brain. Sometimes, the tears may cause aneurysms. Unfortunately, you can do nothing to prevent a stroke that stems from this condition.
- Drug abuse: People who abuse drugs have a significantly increased risk of both hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke. In areas with a high prevalence of illicit drug use, drug abuse is a typical cause of stroke in young adults. The illicit drugs most often associated with stroke are psychomotor stimulants such as amphetamine and cocaine.
- Birth control pills: Taking birth control pills slightly increases the risk of stroke, too. If the person also smokes, their risk becomes substantially higher. It is essential to remember that birth control pills in and of themselves pose a small risk of stroke, so you will have to decide with your doctor whether they are the safest form of contraception for you.
How to Recognize a Stroke
It is paramount to emphasize that strokes are often fatal. Within the first 30 days following a stroke, 1 out of 8 patients loses their life, and 1 out of 4 strokes is deadly within the first year. Consequently, if you suspect that someone is having a stroke, it is crucial to seek medical attention immediately, as the sooner they receive treatment, the less damage the stroke will cause. There is the FAST chart that can help you recognize a stroke:
- F – numbness or drooping on one side of the face, which becomes apparent when the person is smiling
- A – during a stroke, one arm is weaker or number than the other, so ask the person to raise both arms up for a few seconds, and if one arm falls or begins to drop, this might be a sign of a stroke
- S – slurred speech, which is very common if the person is experiencing a stroke, so you should keep talking to them to observe their speech
- T – perhaps the most important factor is time, more specifically, if you notice all of the above symptoms occurring, you should immediately call 911
Other symptoms that might indicate a stroke are numbness on one side of the body, confusion, trouble understanding speech, difficulty seeing in both eyes, trouble walking, dizziness, loss of coordination and balance, and severe headache. By 2050, specialists expect the number of strokes to increase by 2.25 times. The average survival time after a first stroke is 6.8 years for men and 7.4 years for women in people between 60 and 69.
Nonetheless, in young adults, a stroke will not cause that much damage, and most will be able to return to work and live independently following a stroke. Prevention is key when it comes to stroke, so we strongly advise you to quit any detrimental habit you have, such as smoking, and get adequate treatment if you suffer from a health condition such as diabetes, migraine, high blood pressure, polycystic kidney disease, or heart disease.